When Is a Question Better than an Answer?

Too often, assertions are mistaken for arguments, and there’s a vast difference between the two. An assertion is a definitive statement made about the nature of reality. An argument is presented to back up an assertion. By asking “how do you know that’s true?” we’ll move the conversation beyond dueling assertions to why those assertions should be taken seriously. 

It can be intimidating to engage our neighbors on cultural issues these days. It seems that every conversation is a potential minefield where the slightest wrong word can get you banished from polite society as a bigot or “hater.” This is where we can take a lesson from two of the greatest teachers of all time, Jesus and Socrates. Both were masters of their craft, and both used questions to lead their listeners to the answers they sought. 

Here are six questions I’ve found extremely helpful to create the sort of dialogue we should desire about issues of faith and culture. 

First: What do you mean by that? The battle of ideas is always tied up in the battle over the definition of words. Thus, it’s vital in any conversation to clarify the terms being used. For example, the most important thing to clarify about “same-sex marriage” is the definition of marriage. When the topic comes up, it’s best to say, “Hold on, before we go too far into what kind of unions should be considered marriage, what do you mean by marriage?” Often, when it comes to these crucial issues, we’re all using the same vocabulary, but rarely the same dictionary. 

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